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Do Worker Safety Incentive Programs Encourage Workers Not to Report Injuries?

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Worker safety programs help prevent accidents and injuries in the workplace. To encourage employees to follow safety protocols, many companies implement incentive programs. But can these programs have the opposite effect?

The Problem with Incentive Programs

Employers typically implement safety incentive programs with good intentions. Employees are rewarded for having "x" many days without an incident or something similar. Rewards might include cash, awards, prizes or employee recognition.

Employers might assume that the program will encourage workers to follow safety protocols and wear the appropriate equipment. But in many cases, these programs simply discourage employees from reporting illnesses and accidents out of fear of losing these rewards.

When employees fail to report accidents and illnesses, management doesn't have all of the facts needed to curb future safety issues.

Additionally, many workplace accidents are not the fault of employees. Is it fair to penalize workers or an entire team for an incident that was not their fault?

There's also the issue of co-workers ostracizing the employee who reports the accident or illness.

Incentive programs can also be time- and resource-intensive. Some companies implement elaborate programs that reward employees with scratch-off tickets each time they report an incident. The tickets give points that can be exchanged for prizes in a catalog. While these types of programs can be beneficial, it can be a lot of work to manage the tickets and redeem prizes. Experts also agree that the prizes have to get better over time in order for the program to be appealing.

OSHA Final Ruling and What it Means for Workers

OSHA's final ruling prohibits discrimination against employees for reporting illnesses or injuries. This includes discrimination stemming from safety incentive programs.

OSHA has not outright prohibited incentive programs, but they view these programs as having the potential to discourage employees from reporting injuries and illnesses. Reporting an injury or illness could lead to the loss of prizes or other benefits, which could dissuade employees from reporting incidents. These types of programs violate OSHA rules.

But not all incentive programs violate the rules. As Strom & Associates explains, non-violating programs might reward employees for safety behaviors, such as wearing protective equipment or following safety protocols.

Some companies are taking a different approach. They not only reward employees for not having accidents or incidents; they also reward them for reporting safety observations. Rather than penalizing employees for reporting incidents – and taking away their rewards – this type of program actually encourages employees to speak out about potential safety issues.

Another approach is to reward employees for their behaviors. Some companies give employees daily cards with checklists that require them to make certain safety observations. Employees who complete 80% of their cards receive $25 per quarter, up to $100 per year.

Incentive programs can be beneficial, but it can be challenging to find one that works. Most companies that have such programs admit that they aren't perfect. But if employees are encouraged to report incidents, they can help promote safety culture in the workplace. 

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